With the Ivan Hlinka tournament completed and OHL preseason action around the corner, it's time for the first draft list of the season. I only started doing a preseason list a few years ago, but I enjoy it because it gives you a great perspective on where players have come from (for fun, here's the 2016 preseason list).
This is obviously a very difficult list to make. The progression for
draft eligible players can often be a tad unpredictable. The player you
see in a sophomore season isn't often the same player you see in a
freshman year. Growth spurts occur. Strength is added. Confidence grows.
Timid perimeter players can become physical beasts, etc. Or, conversely, you've got players who look great as 17 year olds but just don't progress in their sophomore seasons. Plus, you've
got all the players who haven't yet played in the OHL (at least more than a few games), but who are
projected to be impact players in their draft year (Greg Meireles, Dmitri Samorukov, Adam Thilander, etc).
This year's crop looks to be an interesting one. Not as strong as the 2016 crop, but lots of very intriguing prospects who could be scratching the surface of their potential. One interesting thing to note is that I think a lot of very talented freshmen will be entering the OHL this year (either through the import draft, or from Tier 2), maybe more so than in other years. This is especially true from tier 2, where a lot of very talented players will be making their full time debut coming from the OJHL, GOJHL, etc. As such, I could see as many as half of these players as not cracking the top 30 by season's end. Even the difference between this list and my preliminary top 50 (Oct/Nov) will be huge, I think.
Here's my early list:
1. Gabriel Vilardi - Forward - Windsor Spitfires
Size and skill down the middle, Vilardi has the ability to dominate the possession game with his puck skill, protection ability, and vision. Last year, his skating looked only average and he seemed to lack a true explosive first few steps, but I thought he looked quicker at the Ivan Hlinka camp. Unfortunately, he suffered a knee injury at camp and will miss (at the very least) the preseason, perhaps more. It's too bad, because he was one of the best players at the Hlinka camp and would have had a really good tournament IMO. Hopefully he comes back strong and has a great year for the Memorial Cup host Spitfires.
2. Owen Tippett - Forward - Mississauga Steelheads
Tippett's game is built around speed and his ability to utilize his terrific shot. Has the potential to be a very explosive player. Tippett also possesses the size you look for in a player of his ilk (6'2, 200lbs). He battled some injury issues last year but he'll be an integral part of Mississauga's top 6 next year. On the negative, I thought he had a very disappointing Hlinka tournament. He'll need to figure out a way to be a more consistent factor when the game slows down, in addition to being more involved without the puck.
3. Nic Hague - Defense - Mississauga Steelheads
Gigantic defender (6'5) who really blossomed in the second half of last season. The late '98 emerged as the top defender on a talented young Mississauga team. He excels at both ends of the ice. With a booming point shot, he's a great weapon to deploy on the powerplay. However, he also has great straight ahead speed and has a lot of potential as a puck rusher. Defensively, he uses his mobility as an asset, especially when coupled with his size. But he also shows the potential to be a physical beast, gaining confidence in playing with a nasty edge. Really excited to see where he's at for 2016/17.
4. Matthew Strome - Forward - Hamilton Bulldogs
A different player than Ryan and Dylan, but he'll obviously pique interest because of his last name. Matthew is a budding power winger who could be a dominate player off the rush, as he continues to improve his skating. Strome was fantastic in the second half for Hamilton last year and I look for him to build off that. Was a bit inconsistent at the Hlinka tournament, but those types of ups and downs can be expected as he learns how to use his size to be force in all facets of the game.
5. Michael Dipietro - Goaltender - Windsor Spitfires
A little bit nervous ranking a goalie this high, this early, but Dipietro deserves it. Was fantastic for Windsor last year. Was great at the U17's, and was absolutely phenomenal at the recent Hlinka tournament. He's not huge (6'0), but he's so athletic and his quickness in the crease allows him to make a ton of acrobatic saves. Unlike a lot of hyper athletic goalies though, he's incredibly composed in his positioning and already does a great job of controlling his rebounds. Not a ton of goaltenders get drafted in the 1st round anymore, but Dipietro is looking like a worthy candidate.
6. Nick Suzuki - Forward - Owen Sound Attack
A bit undersized (pushing 5'11), but brings a lot to the ice. Suzuki plays with a ton of energy at both ends and is a very effective player without the puck. He uses explosive quickness to be a major factor on the forecheck and the backcheck. But he also has great vision as a playmaker and exhibits a lot of poise with the puck in the offensive end. I thought he had a terrific showing at the Hlinka, where he was one of Canada's top players. A lot of offensive potential here.
7. Vanya Lodnia - Forward - Erie Otters
Kind of a similar player to Suzuki. Tons of speed, energy, and skill. Is undersized as well, but has already grown nearly two inches since being drafted into the OHL (from 5'8 to 5'10) and that's going to make him a more attractive asset to NHL teams. Was drafted as a center, but has played wing thus far and will probably stay there (IMO). Had an absolutely tremendous Hlinka tournament where he was dangerous nearly every time on the ice and helped the U.S. win the silver, as one of it's top scorers. Could be in for a big offensive season.
8. Jacob Paquette - Defense - Kingston Frontenacs
Big fan of this steady two-way defender who emerged as a top 4 defender on a 1st place team last year as a 17 year old. That's not a common occurrence. Paquette has great size at almost 6'3, 200lbs, but is extremely mobile. Defensively, he's an incredibly solid positional defender who shows a great head for the game already and is only going to get better. Offensively, he makes a great first pass and I'm intrigued to see how that side of his game develops this year. Would have been a big performer for Canada at the Hlinka but had to be replaced due to an injury (which has not yet been announced). Hopefully it doesn't affect his OHL year.
9. Sasha Chmelevski - Forward - Ottawa 67's
The key to the Travis Konecny deal, Chmelevski broke his collarbone before he could really make a big splash post trade. But the extremely talented center is poised for a big season in Ottawa, where he could come into the year as the club's number one center. Chmelevski is a dynamic offensive player who has blazing speed and dazzling puck skill. He put that well on display at the Hlinka, where he led the US to silver, capturing the tournament's leading scorer award.
10. Markus Phillips - Defense - Owen Sound Attack
Phillips is a real heart and soul type of player, as evidenced by the fact that he was named captain of Canada's Hlinka entry this year and was one of the few underagers on Canada's U18 team last April. Phillips is a stocky defender (5'11, 200lbs), but he uses strong mobility to make up for his lack of reach, staying ahead of incoming rushers. He has a great stick in the defensive zone and is the type of kid who blocks shots and wins battles in the corners. Offensively, I'm not sure what the ceiling is. I've seen him struggle at times when he tries to force plays, but he's also flashed an ability to lead the rush and QB the powerplay. Looks to be a Travis Dermott type of player.
11. Jason Robertson - Forward - Kingston Frontenacs
Big fan of this explosive winger, who was a major surprise in the OHL this year. A 4th rounder, Robertson not only came out of nowhere to make the Fronts, but established himself as a go to offensive player at times (although did struggle later in the year). Last year was really impressed with his ability to drive wide, using speed to attack the crease. Size, speed, and skill on the wing is a great combo. Disappointed he wasn't included on the U.S. Hlinka team.
12. Jack Studnicka - Forward - Oshawa Generals
I wanted to put Studnicka higher, but just couldn't figure out who deserved to be bumped. A solid crop and Studnicka is part of that. He's already a well rounded center who excels as a playmaker, showcasing a great head for the game. He flashes a physical game and I'd love for him to continue to explore that side of things. Was a member of the Canadian Hlinka team, playing a checking line role. Think of his brother Sam, but more naturally talented offensively.
13. Mackenzie Entwistle - Forward - Hamilton Bulldogs
Entwistle is a player who is making quite the name for himself in the 2016 calendar year. I thought he was great in the second half for Hamilton last year, and was terrific for Canada at the Hlinka in an energy role. He's a very well rounded player who looks like a potential power center (6'3) who skates well and plays with physical bravado. If he gets off to a quick start for Hamilton, he's going to gain a lot of steam as a potential first round talent for 2017.
14. Issac Ratcliffe - Forward - Guelph Storm
Very large winger (6'4, 200lbs) who possesses a lot of potential due to his combination of size, skill, and skating ability. Can be a real force when he looks to be aggressive in driving the net and displays some nifty hands while at top speed. Reminds me a lot of Greyhounds forward Tim Gettinger and has the same sort of concerns as he moves into his sophomore season. Ratcliffe needs to use his size more consistently in all areas of the ice, upping his aggression level. If he can prove to be a consistent offensive force this season and really shows improvement in his aggressiveness, he could move up this list quickly.
15. Austen Keating - Forward - Ottawa 67's
Very high skilled player who started the year at center for Ottawa but finished the year on the wing. Keating possesses a lot of skill with the puck and seems to have a high hockey IQ in the offensive end too. But his skating is only average at this point, and when combined with average size, there are bound to be a few red flags. Getting stronger and quicker will be key for him as he moves into his draft season. I was disappointed with his play at the Canadian Hlinka camp, where he wasn't all that noticeable (and failed to make the roster). But he has shown enough skill to warrant this high of ranking at this point, despite some short comings.
16. Ben Jones - Forward - Niagara IceDogs
Jones struggled a fair amount last year as an OHL rookie. The former 7th overall pick had a tough time standing out with limited ice time, on a deep Niagara team. He was asked to play more of a checking line role, but struggled with that (with faceoffs, defensive assignments, play in the corners). But I liked Jones a lot as a midget player and I believe in his long term potential. If he's added some strength this offseason, he has the speed, playmaking ability, and puck skill to be a dynamic offensive center. And he's likely going to get all the ice time he can handle this year (if he shows improvement).
17. Jonah Gadjovich - Forward - Owen Sound Attack
A late '98, Gadjovich is a big power winger (6'2, 200lbs) who saw a lot of time on Owen Sound's top line last year (although with limited power play time). He's a noticeable player because of how well he can open up the ice for his linemates and for how well he works the corners. Gadjovich also flashes an ability to drive the net with effectiveness, using his size and hands to protect the puck. At this point, I think he's being underrated for this draft heading into the year (wasn't on the NHL Central Scouting's futures list). Could be a 25+ goal scorer this year and I think that would be enough for him to warrant a look inside the top 100.
18. Brady Gilmour - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
Slightly undersized playmaking center who struggled at times as an OHL rookie. The 5'10 forward does exhibit some good poise with the puck in the offensive end, but I thought he struggled when playing at a higher tempo (with puck protection because of lack of strength). At the Hlinka camp, I did think that he showed an extra gear that he didn't have last year, but I want to see his offensive performance this year for a Saginaw club that should be a better team, so long as their young players (like Gilmour) improve.
19. Hayden Davis - Defense - Niagara IceDogs
Davis didn't play a whole lot last year due to the depth of Niagara's blueline. But the once hyped OHL priority selection will have a chance to actually prove himself next year (due to some graduations). With some good size (~6'2, 200lbs), I think he profiles very well as a stay at home defender (at the minimum) because of good mobility and positioning. And he showed this at the recent Hlinka camp. But where he struggled at the Hlinka camp was offensively, specifically with turnovers from trying to do too much. Obviously, the key to his draft status will be his play with the puck, at least if he aims to be a top 3 round selection.
20. Daniil Vertiy - Forward - North Bay Battalion
Thought Vertiy was excellent for North Bay following a trade from Windsor. He plays the game with both energy and skill. He's only average sized, but I liked his aggressiveness in attacking the net, with and without the puck. In a lot of ways, he has some pest like qualities. But I also believe that the skill level has only been flashed to us thus far and that he's capable of more. A late '98, Vertiy will be entering his 3rd OHL season and he should be an impact player for the Battalion.
21. Liam Hawel - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Close battle between Hawel and Morgan Frost for the top Greyhound available (at least right now). I give the slight nod to Hawel because of the size he possesses down the middle. At 6'4, Hawel is still growing into his body and as such, he needs to get stronger. But I think he shows great instincts at both ends of the ice and seems to be a really smart player. Upping the physical intensity (which should come with increased strength) could help to make him a very desirable prospect for this draft.
22. Morgan Frost - Forward - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Highly intelligent center who showed great puck control and poise as a rookie, often playing in some key offensive situations for the Hounds. I don't think anything about his skill set could be described as incredibly flashy, but he proved to be very effective. I also liked his effort on the backcheck, even if he sometimes lacked the strength to be incredibly effective. Frost also shows great potential as a strong face-off man. Once he gains confidence, I'm very curious to see what he's capable of offensively.
23. Elijah Roberts - Defense - Kitchener Rangers
Roberts is a very tough player to rank at this point. I absolutely love his game. His ability to start the transition game is electric because of his speed and puck skill. And I think he showed very well defensively as the Hlinka, refusing to back down from any challenge (be it in the corners or in front of the net). The really issue here is his size. Even in today's day and age, 5'8 is small for the blueline, although I'm sure there is hope that he'll grow into the 5'10ish range. I'd like to rank him higher, but I want to see how his OHL season starts first. He'll need to be a dominant factor offensively IMO.
24. Brady Lyle - Defense - North Bay Battalion
Good sized defender who got a late start to his OHL career last year due to a broken collarbone suffered in the preseason. Lyle shows well as a puck mover who can make good decisions with his breakout pass and shows some potential as a powerplay QB. I think he has some maturing to do in his own end (I thought he struggled defensively at the Hlinka camp too), but it's not uncommon for first year defenders to struggle. He'll get more ice time this year and could be a name to watch.
25. Noel Hoefenmayer - Defense - Ottawa 67's
I think there are a lot of things to like about Hoefenmayer's game. I thought he showed a lot of potential at both ends of the ice. I liked his physical intensity at times and his desire to put his body on the line to make a play. And I thought he looked good skating the puck out and jumping up in the play. But he's quite raw and needs to refine his approach at both ends to put his skills to better use. IMO, he showed enough in flashes to make this list though.
26. Robbie Burt - Forward - Oshawa Generals
contributions weren't there last year (in Kingston or Oshawa), but I was
impressed with his energy and physical bravado in Oshawa. He really
established himself as a great body checker and forechecker. The
question is, just how much offensive potential does he have? As a midget
player, he was known as a great goal scorer and that's obviously
something that could carry over with his energy and tenacity. If that's
the case, he could be a solid prospect for this draft
27. Kirill Maksimov - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
A ton of offensive potential here. Maksimov is a very slick offensive player who can dangle with the best of them and shows some electric offensive abilities off the rush. Can be prone to over handling the puck, and really needs to round out the rest of his game. But because of the individual skill level he possesses, he's worthy of a place on this list (barely over his teammate Cole Coskey).
28. Nick Deakin-Poot - Forward - Guelph Storm
A very intriguing prospect IMO. Might be an aggressive ranking at this point, but I think that there is a lot of potential in his game. He's a 6'4, 200lbs center who flashed great hands, speed, and aggressiveness last year for a very weak Guelph team. He was far from a consistent factor, but if he can harness those abilities, he could be a very good NHL draft prospect.
29. Kyle Keyser - Goaltender - Flint Firebirds
Good sized netminder who showed well in a difficult situation last year. He started the year very well, but then suffered a torn meniscus. Upon returning at the end of the year, he didn't look quite as quick or as confident and struggled. But he's a young netminder, and he appears to be incredibly athletic (so long as the knee is good). We'll see what happens in Flint this year. With Moran's trade to North Bay, he should see the bulk of the starts, which will give him the opportunity to be a part of a potentially strong goaltending crop from the OHL (lots of solid rookies entering the league this year).
30. Ryan McGregor - Sarnia Sting
Undersized (5'10), but super quick winger who had a terrific first season in Sarnia last year. He is incredibly effective off the rush, where he can exploit defenders by surprising them with his quickness. Need to see him more engaged in other areas, especially given his average (to below average size), but with added strength, his game could most certainly develop multiple faces.
Macauley Carson - Sudbury Wolves
Zach Gallant - Forward - Peterborough Petes
Cole Coskey - Forward - Saginaw Spirit
Kaden Fulcher - Goaltender - Hamilton Bulldogs
Mac Hollowell - Defense - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Nick Grima - Defense - Peterborough Petes
Greg Meireles - Forward - Kitchener Rangers
Jacob McGrath - Goaltender - Sudbury Wolves
Dmitri Samorukov - Defense - Guelph Storm
Adam Thilander - Defense - North Bay Battalion
Ian Blacker - Defense - London Knights
Adam Ruzicka - Forward - Sarnia Sting